Travels with a Plantser

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

I dragged the line on the Google map from the A1 highway to a road along the coast of the UK that looked like a long piece of birthday crepe paper that had been crumpled up and (uselessly) stretched out again. According to Google calculations, taking that squiggly route will add at least an hour to our trip than if we took the A1 (hence the name, I suppose).

But that’s OK, because it’s taken me 30-plus years to get back to the UK since my first trip in college.

I guess if I were a road in the UK, I’d be like the Z593.

That “lesser” highway, though, will bring us closer to the coast of the North Sea and through towns that are spelled one way and pronounced another.

During the months I was planning this 10-day dream trip, I realized that my process mirrors the way I write…and the way I live in general.

Basically, I know point A and point B and figure things out in between as I go. 

fabien-bazanegue-537574-unsplash

For the travel plans, I filled in the unknowns as best I could using the Internet, advice from friends and message boards, and memories of decades ago – nothing changes that much in England anyway, right? They still have queens.

Similarly, in the novel writing world, writers are generally labeled as planners or pantsers (as in flying by the seat of said pants). I land in the middle, which makes me a plantser. I have a clear vision of where the story starts, how it potentially ends, and then rely on a loose outline, discovery, and crunchy snacks to develop my characters and move them toward their destination. 

I kind of live that way, too. I have a goal in mind (point B)–a destination and a rough idea of how I might get there from point A, which is usually extremely comfortable and doesn’t require me to drive on the opposite side of the road.

But, as with writing and travel, I also like leaving room for unexpected opportunities, self-discovery, and recuperation time when things fall apart.  

Several months into planning, my husband and I found out he wasn’t going to be able to go. I schlumped around the house that day with a lump of disappointment in my stomach that also tasted like fear. I hate that taste. 

I haven’t traveled overseas since I was 18. But once I would drop my daughter off for her semester abroad halfway through the trip, I’d only be on my own for five days.

Soon I was thinking of this change of plans as a personal plot twist, a chance for pilgrimage even. If I were writing a novel (which I am), this would be like discovering a plot hole and planting something new in it instead of building a rickety bridge over it…or plain old giving up.

Then a new character entered into the storyline. My father. 

When I had first seriously planned a trip back to the UK, I thought it would be cool for my parents to come (even though the last time I led a trip with them, my mother was ready to beat me silly with her Disney Vacation Club). She knew about our recent bump in the road and called a few days later to say my dad would like to go with me and my daughter. 

He had just got a shot of cortisone in his knee and new hearing aid batteries. He was ready.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve loosened my grip on my “pen” and am allowing this story to unfold. My point B is safe arrival in Scotland, a land I fell in love with years ago.

But isn’t the real goal of journey like this so much more (and amazing fish and chips)?

Inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller said:

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.

What happens along the squiggly routes between points A and B is that we discover, like characters in a great book, exactly where we need to be.

[Sign] photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

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Writer | creative non-fiction & YA fiction Developmental Editor | Moody Publishers

7 thoughts on “Travels with a Plantser

  1. It sounds like you’re going to have a marvelous trip, Amanda! I love leaving room in vacation plans to stop at places we find along the way, or that someone we meet recommends. I’ve had some lovely adventures that way over the years.

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    1. Sorry for the late reply, Pearl! It was an amazing trip. Exhausting, but adventures usually are. We had so many miles to cover in 10 days that we didn’t get to take detours too often (except the bazillion times I headed the wrong way out of a roundabout), but we left room in each day for exploring. I’m still processing all of it and plan to write a few posts, including one about some lovely book finds.

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  2. If you’re driving up along the northern coast to Edinburgh and pass through Seaburn (just north of Sunderland), please take a picture of Seaburn. Russ has always wanted to visit as his roots trace back to that town (imagine that!). We may make it there someday, but if not a picture will suffice. 🙂

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      1. No, he doesn’t own one. But when he was in Scotland (probably Edinburgh), sitting on barstools at a bar, he was talking with a married couple discussing the husband’s kilt. The wife explained men in Scotland could wear kilts because they are really tough. To demonstrate this, the woman reached under her husband’s kilt and knocked (which was really the sound of her hitting the bottom of the barstool). 😀

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